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Make Exam Prep or Any Project Less Stressful

10 December 2019

Allison read Professor Karen Inkelas' advice for University of Virginia students and realized her insights apply to any daunting project as well as exams.

Tags: allison read, learning, mindfulness, uva

Each morning, I read an email summary from The Daily Progress, The New York Times, MLB Morning Lineup, and UVAToday. As a “Double Hoo,” I know I’m biased, but I think the University of Virginia’s daily update is useful even if you’re not affiliated with our community. It always includes a summary of great cutting-edge research and trends in academia as well announcements about upcoming local events.

In last Friday's UVAToday, Whitelaw Reid “turned to Karen Inkelas, an associate professor in the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Human Development and a renowned expert on the college experience, for some advice” to help students with their upcoming exams.

Ikelas suggests these tips:

  1. Location, Location, Location: "It needs to be a place where you can get comfortable, have an adequate workspace, not have too many distractions, and where you can get down to work quickly and easily."
  2. Healthy Eating and Hydration: "When we become stressed, we often slip into some of our less-optimal habits."
  3. Short Breaks: "The human brain cannot sustain concentration for hours at a time."
  4. Have a Plan: "I have noticed that some of the biggest stressors among students are things that could be prevented with a little advance planning."
  5. Reflection: "It can be easy to lament your predicament and wallow in your exam-time misery."

As I read through this list, I found myself remembering the spring of 1998. I graduated from UVA as an English major in 1995. In 1997, I applied to get my MBA at UVA’s Darden School of Business. The University’s President and Executive Vice President and COO as well as the Rector of the Board of Visitors wrote my letters of recommendation based on their interactions with me as the Student Member of the Board of Visitors during my fourth year as an undergraduate. I then received the kindest rejection letter in the world. It turns out who you know only helps you if you’re qualified!

Everyone involved was concerned with my lack of quantitative ability and experience. At their suggestions, I quickly enrolled in statistics and accounting courses at UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies in Northern Virginia. I struggled in both classes and only turned things around when a coach I knew pointed out that I was neglecting 2, 3, and 5 from Inkelas’ list above. Since then, those tips have become important not just for overwhelming work projects but also for my daily life.

I applied to Darden again and enrolled in the fall of 1999 which meant that I was a classmate of Rachel’s. (That sure turned out well for Allison Partners and me!) The quantitative challenges were still daunting for me, and I had to add my mama’s anxiety management plan to my tool kit in order to graduate, but I made it through the program and achieved my biggest goal of starting my own business. That was 19 years ago and now I’m also the Chair of UVA's School of Continuing and Professional Studies board, so things have a way of coming full circle. However, the ride sure is more pleasant and the goals are more attainable when we take good care of ourselves along the way.

What suggestions do you have for those taking exams or working on big projects?


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